CHESAPEAKE BAY, Md. (FOX 5 DC) - During the 1920s, African Americans were still suffering under the harshness of segregation and Jim Crow laws, but two women in Maryland looked to help their fellow African Americans.
Frederick Carr, a black entrepreneur, purchased more 100 acres on the Chesapeake Bay and gave some of the lands to his four daughters. Two of his daughters, Elizabeth Carr and Mary Florence Carr Sparrow, used this gift to create beaches exclusively for African Americans.
“When I was growing up, Ocean City was segregated,” Jackie Tibbs Copeland, the Director of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum recalled. “I remember being in the water and there was a rope there with balls on it and you knew you couldn't go beyond the rope because you knew on the other side of the rope was the white area.”
Carr’s and Sparrow’s beaches were listed in the Green Book, which outlined different places where it was safe for African Americans to go, and offered an alternative Maryland’s “whites only” beaches. Some of the entertainers that came to Carr's Beach at that time included Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Chick Web, Duke Ellington, Ray Charles, James Brown and Sarah Vaughan.
“The slogan was ‘black feet in white sand.’ That was so empowering and no one could tell you to sit down or stand up. You could just come out and enjoy the Chesapeake Bay. Enjoy the music, enjoy the food, enjoy the fellowship,” Vince Leggett explained. “Just to see people of color in charge running something was just very empowering to a downtrodden people.”
Leggett works with Carr's Beach Project, which is helping to preserve the history of the beaches even though some of the beaches no longer exist.
“Here it was the 1930s and you have two African American females that owned acreage on the Chesapeake Bay,” Leggett said. “To see African Americans prevailing against all odds, being educated business people, hiring people, adding to the tax role. They hired many of the local school teachers during this period of segregation because colored teachers were making less than white teachers.”
Watch the video in the player above to learn more about the history of the beaches.